Malaysia-New Zealand ties are in a prime state to be further prioritised and expanded, in ensuring holistic and mutual returns to both countries especially amidst the era of greater geopolitical uncertainties and challenges.
The state visit by New Zealand Governor-General Dame Cindy Kiro reflects the importance of elevating the depth of ties that will create new frontiers of assurances and strategic cooperation based on trust, historical friendship and future resilience in strengthening the bulwark of a value-based relationship. This is underscored by the bedrock and principles of good governance and the upholding of freedom, democracy and human rights.
While economic, trade and people to people dimensions are the core indicators of focus in the central tenets of the bilateral ties, the growing importance of defence, geostrategic and security ties remain ever more critical especially in the light of new shared traditional and non-traditional threats facing both nations.
In the sphere of unconventional challenges, both face the growing implications of climate changes and threats and the openings for deeper impactful joint collaborations and development on green energy, green finance and digital economy remain the core progressive areas of resilience. This also includes the development of the high technology and critical resources assurances that are strategic for long term economic returns including the semiconductor and artificial intelligence domains, in which both countries are in a better position to reap the returns from stronger collaborative dynamics.
In new economic realms including the halal sector and enrichment and appreciation of rights of indigenous communities, both nations have greater openings to deepen ties.
New Zealand has had a sterling growth in trade relations. New Zealand is Malaysia’s second-largest trading partner in the Pacific region, with total trade reaching RM6.32 billion as of June this year, an increase from the RM5.48 billion recorded in 2022. Malaysia is among New Zealand’s top three trading partners in ASEAN.
Food and energy security and a stable supply chain remain at the central strategic considerations especially for Wellington, and Malaysia plays a vital role in serving as the bastion of future returns and the protection of these critical tools of national interest protection and regional stability. With growing vulnerability in food and energy supply chain as a result of climate impact and geopolitical implications with rising food export ban and restrictions, ties that are pillared on trust and historical friendship remain a stabilising and reassuring fallback for common returns in protecting key interests and needs.
These include areas of cooperation and ingrained presence in areas of low politics including education, talent mobility, technology and high impact research, tourism and people to people exchanges and development have been at the forefront of bilateral relationship between Kuala Lumpur and Wellington, and will continue to be the predominant pillars that underpin future trajectories of ties. The spillover effects transcending the conventional drivers of exchanges and learning have been profound, but the more critical and needed areas of increased importance remain the strengthening of strategic defence and security partnership.
The domain of regional security and stability especially in Southeast Asia intertwines deeply with Wellington’s future security orientation. Potential flashpoints in the South China Sea or the risks of future implications from a potential Taiwan crisis will reverberate far and wide to Oceania, implicating both Canberra and Wellington. Already, the two Oceanic powers have been reorienting their security and power postures amidst renewed power rivalry and bloc division, and both have been wary of increased Beijing’s presence and influence seeking and courting efforts in the Pacific Island states.
As Malaysia remains among the primary actors in steering ASEAN’s relevance and growth, especially when it is to hold the chairmanship of ASEAN in 2025, it remains Wellington’s strategic importance to build on the close and strong ties with Kuala Lumpur to further deepen interdependence and ties with ASEAN and neighbouring regional players for long term returns and stability in trade, economy and security.
Southeast Asia remains a critical barrier and zone of strategic interest, and Malaysia sits at the centre of this region that will carry a lot of weight in ensuring maritime and trade security. For New Zealand, being a traditional Western power and the only Western presence in the key Asian region together with Australia, carry a different strategic counterweight as well as challenges in ensuring that the right roles and collaborations are forged based on the timeless norms of freedom and democracy and protection of rights for all and adherence to the moral high ground and the sanctity of the rule of law and responsibilities for humanity and the climate, among other tenets. Malaysia plays a decisive and strategic role both in creating new protective incentivising factors in safeguarding these norms that have enabled global and regional growth and trade, and in helping to ensure the returns reverberate across the region and neighbouring regions with its key geostrategic advantages.
Both Malaysia and New Zealand have been strong traditional partners in security and defence especially in the Five Powers Defence Arrangement (FPDA) setting, and this needs further urgency and targeted focus and full investment by Malaysia in ensuring that our defence and security partnership remains bullish and resilient, anchored by common trust, sincerity and lasting bond that strive for the peaceful interests and co-existence in a complex and challenging security environment. The FPDA remains ever more relevant, if not more critical, in providing the assured security assurances and returns against the rising hard power threats and turbulence, and both Wellington and Kuala Lumpur must continue to create lasting long term investments and focus in this defensive arena.
Areas of interoperability mechanisms and fluidity and joint exercises both in a bilateral and joint platform basis must be elevated, and common framework and strategic preventive and response efforts in ensuring maritime domain awareness and adherence to the rule of law, maritime security and international law remain the ultimate drive to both nations’ strategic security interests.
This includes the strategic need to elevate trust and a future driven strategic dependency on shared intelligence on both traditional and non traditional threats that will be pivotal in ensuring an encompassing readiness and capacity in dealing with potential threats and in averting risks. Wellington remains as a strategic member of the Five Eyes intelligence pact and its role in security and defence assurances for the region and in maintaining the status quo of the universal normative order of the rules-based system is ever more critical for the region and the world. Wellington remains our vital partner in upholding the moral framework and normative values in securing regional peace and stability.
This is the area where Malaysia must also contribute and to complement the dual needs and strength in capitalising on one another’s key advantages in creating new supportive and progressive architecture of defence and preventive diplomacy and in capitalising on our decades old trust and friendship. Wellington-Kuala Lumpur ties remain of deep importance to both, and all parties should continue to build on the decades of legacy in protecting our relationship in a concerted and multifaceted approach.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.